January 25, 2013

Homemade Potato Soup

There's no better way to stay warm on those cold winter evenings than with a steaming bowl of homemade potato soup. My parents make a delicious potato soup, so I started with their recipe.  Over the course of the winter, my husband and I made some changes and additions so that it better suited our taste.  What we came up with is a thick and cheesy soup that will keep you full and warm all evening long.

8 lbs. Russet potatoes, peeled, diced
1 lb. ground sage sausage
2 qts. chicken stock
1 pt. heavy cream
1/4 c. flour
1/4 c. butter
1 c. sour cream
3-4 c. shredded cheddar cheese
2 c. green onions, chopped

Boil about 4 cups of diced potatoes in  a medium sized sauce pan with enough chicken stock to cover them.  Add seasonings to taste.  I usually use pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder.  Continue to cook over medium heat until the potatoes mash easily.  Leaving the stock in the pan, mash the potatoes and set aside.

Meanwhile, brown the sausage and drain off excess fat.  Add the sausage to a large stock pot (mine is 12 qt.) along with the remaining potatoes and chicken stock.   Season this pot as you did the first.  Simmer until the potatoes are fork tender.  Combine the flour and butter to make a white roux.  Add this to your stock pot along with the mashed potatoes.  These will help thicken your broth.  Stir in the heavy cream, sour cream, and cheese.  Stir over medium low heat as broth thickens.  When the soup reaches your desired consistency, remove from heat and stir in the chopped green onions.

This makes a LOT of soup!  It is a great recipe for a large gathering, or as a "cook once, eat twice" meal...and goes very well with homemade dinner rolls.  The dinner rolls are great for wiping the last of the soup out of your bowl.  I'll have to post that recipe soon! By the way, if your leftover soup gets a little too thick in the refrigerator, just add a splash of milk as you reheat it on the stove.


January 18, 2013

Civil Rights Are Everyone's Right

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." - Declaration of Independence

It's hard for me to understand that anyone can believe that these unalienable rights only belong to some people, or that the word "all" actually means "a select group", yet civil rights is still an issue nearly 240 years later.  I don't believe that Martin Luther King, Jr. was the kind of person who celebrated himself, so for MLK Day this year I'm choosing to honor him by focus on civil rights instead of the life of Dr. King himself.  That doesn't mean that I don't think it's important to learn about his life, just that I think he would prefer we put our energy into bringing up the next generation to truly see each other as equals...so we can all live the good life regardless of color, religion, sex, place of origin, or any other belief.

The Civil Rights Movement
EdTech Teacher has a wonderful collection of the Best of History Websites.  Their Civil Rights Movement page offers a load of resources including footage of Dr. King delivering his "I Have A Dream" speech, a link to the National Civil Rights Museum, and lesson plans covering civil rights.  The Multnomah County Library in Oregon has put together a great page on their website containing lesson plans, webquests, and library book reading lists about civil rights.  

Women's Rights
Time for Kids has created a mini-site about Women's History which includes a timeline of major milestones and information about women who were the first in their fields.  I found two articles on Scholastic's website.  The first is an excerpt from the New Book of Knowledge which effectively summarizes the Women's Rights Movement.  The second is an article from Grolier Online.

Today's Issues
What are the important civil rights issues in today's society?  That history is still being written.  Annenberg Classroom and Civil Rights.org both offer some interesting information and conversation starters to discuss with your children.  Many children react to learning about injustices by wanting to get involved.  One current civil rights issue they can easily become active in is bullying in school.  StopBullying.gov can give your children the resources they need to become activists for equality and fair treatment in their own environment.  

"Treat others the way you want to be treated."  That is what my husband and I have always taught our children.  If we could all live that way, the world would be a much better place.


January 16, 2013

Mid-week Morsel: String Games

Remember how much fun it was to make Jacob's Ladder out of string when you were a kid?  Can you remember how to do it?   Many New Year's Resolutions include wishes to spend more time with family, so for this week's Mid-week Morsel I found a website with instructions on Jacob's Ladder and many other figures and games to play with string.  Cut a few lengths of yarn, and spend some fun quality time with your kids today.

January 12, 2013

About Me

Now this is a vacation!
Simply The Good Life has so many new friends to start the new year that I decided now is a good time to introduce myself.  I'm Karissa; wife and mother.  My husband and I have three children; fifteen year old twin boys and an eight year old daughter. Okay, make that four children; we also have a three year old English Bulldog boy.  (You may have seen him getting a good night's sleep in my blog post, "The Flu Season Is Here".)  We are mid-western transplants, living "the good life" in Florida.  For me, the good life means taking time to smell the ocean air, enjoying the natural beauty of the world around us, and doing the best we can with what we have.

Morning computer work.
Our children go to school at home.  It's not exactly homeschool; we use Connections Academy, a public virtual school.  My husband and I talked for several years about homeschooling our children.  I was intimidated by the thought of being solely responsible for their education.  It seemed like there were so many choices for curriculum, and responsibilities for record keeping that I felt a little overwhelmed.  It was when virtual schooling became available in our state that we decided to take the plunge; and we couldn't be happier.  We have the involvement we want in our children's education, and they have the freedom to learn in their own styles and at the speeds that suite each of them individually.  I also have peace of mind in knowing that their classes are meeting or exceeding state standards and that there are teachers available for instruction in every class should we need them.


Scratch-made Apple Sharlotka with Caramel Sauce.  Yum!
I've always enjoyed sharing tips and ideas I've found with friends and family members.  I started this blog when my husband and I moved our family out of state so that I could continue to share resources for education, family management, cooking, and crafts & hobbies with family, friends, and now everyone else as well.  I love to cook from scratch.  I get a real sense of satisfaction from creating a delicious meal all on my own that is healthy and affordable.  I also like coming up with creative new ideas to motivate my children to learn.  It takes a village to raise up a child, so I'm always looking for new ideas and sharing the ones I've already found. Crafts and homemade gifts are another hobby of mine.  It feels so good to give a unique gift that was made with love, not just picked up at a store in a hurry.  Living the good life is not always easy these days, but when you think outside the box and keep it simple, you can make it work.  

I'd love to get to know you, as well.  Please feel free to share a little about yourself below in the comment section of my blog post, on my Facebook or Google Plus pages, or send me a tweet with your Twitter handle so I can follow you.


January 8, 2013

Mid-week Morsel: New Year, New Budget

The new year is a great time to organize your budget and finances.  Here are four ways you can take control of your money.

Track expenditures:  The one tip that help me get our budget under control was knowing where our money actually went.  Use your banks online budget feature, a budget program, a spreadsheet, or just a good old fashioned ledger to break down each expense into it's true category.  The trick is to use something that allows you to split expenses into multiple categories.  (When I did this years ago, I used Microsoft Money.)  For example, you might have spent $57 at the gas station.  However, only $40 of that was for gas, $15 was for food and drinks, and $2 was for a newspaper.  Not breaking down this expense might lead you to believe you're spending a lot more on gas than you really are, and would also hide just how much you really spend on extras like snacks.  I'm not suggesting that you break down every expense for the rest of your life, just for a month or two so that you can see your true spending habits.  You'll be amazed at how much money you spend on the little things, and how quickly they can wreck your budget.  Because you shouldn't have to spend money to save money, About.com has a list of free money management programs for you to check out.

Out of Sight = Out of Mind:  It took years for my husband to get me in the habit of checking our bank accounts every single day; even when we had not used it.  It wasn't that I was refusing to check them, I simply forgot.  Then I discovered Mint.com.  It's a free website from Intuit that tracks all your accounts (checking, savings, retirement, loans, credit cards, etc.) using one login.  I bookmarked the site and added it to the top of my browser so I saw it every time I was online.  Now that I have a smartphone, I use apps from my financial institutions and have alerts set up to text me when certain events take place, such as an unusually large purchase or my account balance dipping below a certain level.  Using online banking and apps help keep our money situation right in front of me all day so that I can't help but keep track of it.

Hidden Costs:  Now is a great time to take a look at your accounts and subscriptions to see if you are getting the most for your money.  Look at things like phone, internet, and cable plans to see if the package is really the best fit for your usage needs.  Are there added features you don't use, but are still paying for?  Cut them out, and put that money to better use.

Taxes:  The start of a new tax year makes this a great time to review your withholding.  If you typically owe taxes, adjust your withholding so that more is taken out.  If you typically get a large refund, adjust your withholding so that less is taken out.  Some people enjoy getting a large refund, and count on it for large purchases.  If you are one of these people, keep this in mind, you can easily adjust your withholding so that more money goes to your paycheck, then have that money automatically transferred to a savings account.  This way, not only do you have the large amount of money at tax time, but you also have the interest earned on that money.  Letting the government hold your money allows them to earn that interest.  Visit efile.com and use their withholding calculator to find out if you should make changes to your W-4.

Okay, so my mid-week morsel is more like a 3 course meal this week.  I just didn't want to leave any ideas out.  How about you?  Do you have any tips or ideas for taking control of your finances?


January 5, 2013

The Flu Season Is Here

As I sat in bed this morning, Matt Lauer informed me that the flu season is here.  Cases have been reported in all 50 states.  Having the flu is no fun.  After all, you're not really living the good life if you're sick.  Luckily, my family has not been sick in years.  Actually, it's not luck; it takes forethought and planning to keep all 5 of us healthy year after year.  Since every person and every person's immune system is different, I can't guarantee that following my advice will always keep your family healthy.  However, I can tell you that it works for mine.  

Vitamin C: I know this is an obvious answer, but eating foods rich in Vitamin C is easier than you might think.  Having a glass of orange juice each day is something that my husband and I preach to our children regularly.  If OJ doesn't appeal to you, or you just want to mix things up a bit, there are a lot of other foods you can add to your menu to give you the 90mg per day that's recommended for men and the 75mg per day recommended for women.  The fruit and veggie platters are a great place to start.  Bell peppers, broccoli, and kiwi all have more Vitamin C than oranges, and strawberries have the same amount as oranges.  (Just be sure no one with a cold has scavenged the platter before you.)  A tropical fruit smoothie is another great way to boost your immune system.  Guava, papaya, Acerola cherries, and grapefruit are all high in Vitamin C.  If you'd like a more detailed list of foods and their Vitamin C quantities, visit Healthaliciousnessthe Global Healing Center, or the Daily Green.

Limit Exposure: We all live busy lives.  Staying home for the duration of cold and flu season just isn't an option, however being smart about when and where you go can reduce your exposure to viruses.  My first tip is to limit eating out; especially fast food restaurants.  The last thing I need is a sneezing, coughing teenager handling my food.  When we do eat out during cold/flu season, we choose either places where we can see our food being prepared, or high-end places that are more strict about the health of their food handlers.  Secondly, you really don't have to attend every single event.  If there are going to be people at an event whom we know are or have very recently been sick, we often choose not to attend.  The kids might complain that they are missing the fun, but they'll quickly agree that being sick for 3-5 days after the party just isn't worth it.

A Good Night's Sleep:  WebMDthe Healthy Green Kitchen, and The Scientist magazine all agree that getting a good night's sleep improves your immune system.  I know it's tempting to stay up after the kids go to bed and "get some things done", but slowing down and simplifying your life will do wonders towards being able to get to bed and fall asleep in time to get 8-9 hours of sleep each night.  Trust me, once you get into a habit of getting enough sleep, you'll wonder how you ever functioned without it.  

Cleanliness:  I am a mom.  I'm always reminding my children to wash their hands and clean up their spills.  However, I also find myself trying to grab a quick bite for myself and not taking the time to wash my own hands first.  So, this is just a simple reminder to take your own advice. Keeping not only our children's hands clean, but our own hands, counter tops, door knobs, and cell phones clean will greatly reduce the number of bacteria and viruses living in our homes.

How about you?  Do you have tips or ideas for keeping your family healthy during flu season?  I'd love to hear them.